Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Uncomfortably Comfortable

By Marcus M. Mottley, Ph.D.

January 5th 2009: Last evening I attended the commissioning of the new UPP election headquarters - or 'command center' as they called it. Reportedly there was a massive crowd! Why reportedly when I was right there? Well it is hard to tell the size of crowds when the people are tightly packed on a narrow road. The claim was that the road was packed solid for over two blocks! I was standing in one place for the duration of the activity… and that made me uncomfortable.

In any case there were many other issues with which I was uncomfortable… some decidedly made me warm under the collar.

The first issue was the fact that UPP imported a band – all the way from Jamaica, the Fab 5, to play for the event. Why was the UPP so willing to spend the kind of money that they obviously did in order to have this band from Jamaica? Is it that we don’t have any quality bands in Antigua that could have done as well or better? Or, is it that all of the quality bands or already committed to the other party?

Another issue was the fact that although there were a number of religious ‘acts’ and two Bishops– none of them really said or did anything that I think remotely suggested that this was a dedication or ceremonial opening of a new headquarters. In truth, throughout the evening no one, not the ‘hidden’ mysterious voice that seemed at times to be playing the role of the 'Honourable' Mistress of Ceremonies, not even the Prime Minister, paid much attention, if any, to why we were invited to this event! As far as I can recall, the Bishops did not bless the place. The mysterious ‘Honourable’ Mistress of Ceremonies who I can’t remember being introduced, or introducing herself by name, did not reference the building, or the new office, or ‘election command center’.

And then there is the matter of the building itself. I was very uncomfortable with whom it is rented from. I groaned when I was told the name of the owner. Here we go again: Same family. Different part of the family tree maybe? Whatever - same name! Here we go again with these unseemly relationships! I wonder who engineered that pathetic stroke of un-genius.

Then of course, there was the missing parliamentary representative. The Prime Minister claims that he was absent because his wife had taken ill. There is much that can be said – but of course all of that would be speculation. The least that I can say is that his absence was profoundly curious! He was missed only to the effect that the numbers did not add up... I kept saying one is missing… one is missing… Then it dawned on me who the one was… And for that reason the excuse did not add up either. As a matter of fact two were missing… the representative from Barbuda for whatever reason was not there… At least… he was not introduced to us and no excuse was given for his absence.

The core of my discomfort, however, was centered on all the accolades and dramatic tributes that were heaped on the Prime Minister before his presentation. Most of Fab 5’s songs featured the Honorable Prime Minister and the introduction read by the well known voice of the ‘hidden’ Mistress of Ceremonies heaped praises and compliments on him. And then there was the love song that one of the featured singers sung for him as he stood there listening and blushing… “Everything I do, I do it for you”! I certainly like the lyrics “Take me as I am - take my life - I would give it all - I would sacrifice” as a testimony for this giant from Rural West. But I am distinctly uncomfortable when a party elevates an individual above the party.

Last night was not about the building or the command center. Last night was not about the members of the UPP election team. Last night was not even about the UPP. As a matter of fact – even the Chairman of the party was missing from the program. Last night was not about the supporters of the UPP. Last night was not about the opposition. Last night was not about the pending election.

Last night appeared to be about Baldwin Spencer. And for that reason I was uncomfortably comfortable.

I was and continue to be distinctly uncomfortable that UPP finds itself in a position where it has to highlight the party leader rather than put the major emphasis on the party and its other candidates. The Baldwin Spencer that I know would be uncomfortable with this. As a matter of fact Baldwin Spencer was uncomfortable. In his own words, at the microphone, he said “Wow, this feels like a coronation.” And a coronation it appeared to be!

Last night I was squirming in my shoes. Not that he does not deserve the accolades. Not that he does not deserve the tributes. But this is not about Baldwin Spencer. The situation we find ourselves in as a nation is millions of times bigger than any one personality.

But… I also saw the necessity. I saw several psychological and practical reasons for the attempt at ‘coronation’. I more than saw the necessity… I was comfortable with the fact that it was attempted. I was more than comfortable… I leaned towards supporting it… even in my discomfort.

First of all, in politics as in most anything else that involves human beings, the cult of the individual deity or leader is paramount. Whether it be Krishna, Yahwe, Allah or the Christian God. Whether it be Jesus, Mohammed or Buddha. Whether it be Napoleon, George Washington, Kennedy, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Hitler, Fidel Castro, or Mandela. Or whether it be George Walter, V.C. Bird, Barack Obama or Baldwin Spencer. The cult of the individual leader works. And sometimes works well. And it seems to work particularly well when the party is faced with opposition on various fronts.

In the current situation, UPP is faced with opposition on several fronts. On one front is the obvious opposition from the ALP. I say obvious but by no means do I imply trivial. The ALP led by Lester Bird is a force to be reckoned with. On another front there are of course the want-to-be parties that are nibbling at the heels of the two major parties. They are this moment are inconsequential.

Less obvious but definitely significant are the not so hidden forces of the moneyed who are attempting to hijack the democratic process by reportedly sliding millions of dollars into the coffers of individual candidates of both major parties.
So what does all this have to do with my being uncomfortably comfortable? And specifically why I am comfortable with last night’s focus on Baldwin Spencer? Well… it is rumored that key individuals of the moneyed class are trying to fund and buy Mr. Spencer’s demise… either to have him lose his seat or more demonically… to have him lose the support of the candidates that he currently will lead into the elections. What does this mean? It means that if UPP wins, the moneyed pirates of Antigua, would like to see a UPP parliamentarian – one who used to be in inner circle of the ALP – uplifted to the leadership of the government and replace Mr. Spencer.

So… in my mind, last night was an attempt by those in the party who continue to support the Prime Minister to send a strong message not only to the electorate, but to his not-so-hidden detractors within his own Cabinet. The message says that Baldwin Spencer is the leader of the party. Baldwin Spencer is the people’s champion. Baldwin Spencer is the conscience of the UPP. Baldwin Spencer represents the roots of the party. Baldwin Spencer represents the common folk of the party. Baldwin Spencer is the people’s choice to continue to lead the party into the future.

Last night was a warning to those who would usurp the leadership that no just-come turn-‘coat’ politician who was part of the problem in the past can come into this – from that – and take over. It is a warning to those who ‘court’ the favors of millionaires and who themselves have benefitted millions for court-ing millionaires, and who have not paid their dues by court-ing the people of Antigua and Barbuda cannot and will not be allowed to connive against the natural leader of the country.
Those within the UPP courtyard, who court the American millionaire pirate, who court the middle-eastern pirate family, who court the worst inclinations of their parliamentary colleagues, who have continuously clandestinely undermined and stymied the financial decisions of the Honourable Prime Minister, and who have done so at home and abroad, should take warning. Take heed.

Last night was also a warning to those others who have become rich in five years – not from the ministerial or parliamentary representative salaries – that they should tread cautiously. None of them on that stage last night received any particularly noticeable response from the people. As a matter of fact, with the exception of the candidate from City South , most of the responses were tepid… at best. The crowd reserved their accolades for the man of the night. Their livelihood and their lifestyles, continue to be at the whim and fancy of the common folk… enabled, maintained and perpetuated through the people’s champion.

So last night the crowd gave tribute to the Honourable Prime Minister through their vociferous cheering. They indicated that they approve of him and that they support him.

I did too.

Although I was – and still am – both comfortable and un-comfortable!